Zen Practice – A Peaceful Mind

August 31, 2012

A student asked “how do we maintain calmness in a stressful situation?”

The first step is to focus. We need to pay attention when the phenomena show up and the situation comes up. First, we need to be able to see what the essence of the situation or event is. If we don’t pay attention to the core message of a situation, we will generate a lot of emotions.

We must be able to see what the situation really is. Sometimes we create too many worries within ourselves. This is the reality. Therefore, if the reality is not good enough, we need to fix it. We do not need to create more problems based on the existing one. We need to see exactly what the problem is.

Imagine that someone tells you one thing and the problem is presented. Based on the conversation, you can create a lot of emotions. You generate emotions as you hear the person speak, which means you create another layer of trouble on top of the existing one. This is unnecessary. If we do this and are accustomed to doing it, we not only have to make efforts to get rid of the real problems but also need to get rid of a new problem, which is our emotion. These things consume time and energy. You cannot help the problem by worrying about it excessively. Thinking too much cannot make the problem easier!

One should focus on what the problem really is. If we can do so, we can avoid generating too much emotion. Clearly, we over-react to most of the situations we encounter. The existing problem is a problem already. We need a hundred percent of our energy and focus in order to handle it. A single problem can easily be handled when we give it our full concentration. However, if we create a lot of emotions based on that one problem, it means we layer more problems on top of it. To do so only uses more time and energy. Worries and emotions rob a person of energy, and they consume effort. Instead, we need to figure out what the essence of the problem is and what we need to do in order to handle it. Look into the core of this problem, and you will see that we habitually over-react.

Sometimes in our family, for a simple idea or conflict, we will create a huge conflict from just a small conflict if we generate too much emotion. It is just like a couple, in the very beginning, has a little argument, but they start to generate lots of emotions, and soon a tiny thing can generate a miserable feeling with great impact. It is because we can never see what the true problem is.

When the situation comes up, one must first perceive the situation as it is. To do that, we need to have clarity and calmness of mind. Why do we generate so many emotions? Why do we have so many worries? It is because we want to handle the situation correctly and get rid of the situation. One way or another, our handling of the situation only makes it worse. So, it gets more serious. We do this sometimes. We think we are trying to unload the burden. Sometimes we think it is easy to unload the burden by putting an additional burden on top of it. We constantly over-react to things. The reality is simple, but emotions are complicated. However, if we confirm what can be done right now in response to a situation, we will have the right ideas and right thoughts. When you are nervous, your hand trembles and you are unable to pick up a pen. Most of the time, we simply overreact.

Given the occurrence of a problem, situation or event, we create an illusory problem instead of trying to handle the real one. The emotion will cause a person to create an illusory problem and assume it is big. He will think the problem is becoming bigger and bigger, like a balloon being inflated by a child. Soon, the balloon is bigger than the little child!

Problems are illusory, because we create them. Problems, like all thoughts and events, are phenomena. Emotions or our habitual thinking pattern in mind always create these illusory ideas. If someone is used to worrying a lot, he will have too much worry about when something comes up. Our habitual thinking patterns are always too deep, and our reactions to situations are beyond what they should be. We are used to worrying, but most often the thing we worry about has nothing to do with the real problem.

A peaceful mind–a calm mind–frees you from the stress of over-reaction and excessive worry. If you have a calm mind, whatever you do is fine. If you have a calm mind, it is okay that you go to Las Vegas to gamble. Don’t lose too much money, but go just for fun. That is okay. However, if you try to make more money from the machine, that is not right. So, gambling is not always bad. It depends. Nothing is always so. If you go to Las Vegas and just have meals and fun for ten or fifty dollars, it is okay. However, if you worry that you will lose ten dollars and then try to get a jackpot from the machine, this will cause a problem.

Image that you are accustomed to the daily practice of meditation but one day fail to meditate. You start to worry about what you did not meditate that day, and you feel terrible about it. It is not right when the practice of meditation makes you worry. People worry if they do not practice. This is completely wrong. If you have a calm mind, it is okay that you go to the machine to play. Generally, if your mind is peaceful and calm, anything you do will be okay. Contrastingly, if you do not have a calm mind, anything you do will result in an increased burden. Some people try to make more progress, but they worry that a day without meditation will bring negative karma. This way, one creates more karma before he even thinks about it. So, do your best. Put down any pursuit that is a danger to your mind, your health or that of another.

Students ask me whether it is best to meditate on a particular situation–such as a prolonged pain or discomfort–or whether it is better to meditate without such an objective. Have a peaceful mind, and the natural balance will return. If you focus on pain area, sometime it will cause more pains. Emotional thoughts cause stress, problems, pains or the tangling of energy. If one has a calm mind, it is easy to let go. A peaceful mind will cure the pains in the physical body. It is the principle to remain peaceful and calm, no matter what happens during the day. It is not right, however, to simply pretend to be peaceful. That is not really a state of peace. Sometimes, though, one may appear nervous on the outside but be peaceful inside. This is okay. In fact, high-level practitioners can experience this.

Focus on what is really happening right now. Do not think. When people over-react, they will think what is happening “right now,” and they will react from one moment to the next. This has nothing to do with the reality. It is simply within the mind.